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Nurseries see new childcare minister as 'opportunity for a fresh start'

Article By: Sue Learner, News Editor

The early years sector has welcomed the appointment of Sam Gyimah as the new minister responsible for childcare and the early years, calling it an “opportunity for a fresh start”.

Mr Gyimah replaces Elizabeth Truss, who antagonised the sector with her radical reforms, which included moves to up the adult to child ratios in nurseries and her bid to make childcare cheaper and more flexible by encouraging more schools to take two-year-olds.

On Twitter, reaction to the announcement has been very much one of hope that Mr Gyimah heralds something better.

Tweets include: ‘The sector looks forward to a more open, positive & engaging relationship with new early years minister’ and ‘we look forward to a more open & engaging working relationship & greater support for childcare/early years’.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-School Learning Alliance welcomed the appointment calling it “an opportunity for a fresh start – a chance for policy-makers to work much more collaboratively with the sector in order to support the development of a high-quality, sustainable childcare system”.

He added: “This move has come at a particularly crucial time for early years with several changes due to come into effect later this year, such as the revised EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage) Framework, the extension of the two-year-old offer, the introduction of childminder agencies and the implementation of the SEND code of practice.

“As such, we look forward to working with Mr Gyimah and his team at the Department for Education to ensure that the sector is adequately supported during this time of transition, as well as in the longer-term.”

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of National Day Nurseries Association, also welcomed the new minister to his new post and said we “look forward to meeting him along with the new education secretary, Nicky Morgan, when they have settled into their new roles.

“I will be sending them both a copy of NDNA’s Childcare Challenge so we can discuss the issues affecting the sector and the solutions we would like to see put in place.”

New childcare minister faces many challenges

The new role poses plenty of challenges for Mr Gyimah, according to Victoria Flint, head of communications at PACEY (The Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years), who said: “We look forward to working with Mr Gyimah and his team to address some of the most pressing challenges for families and childcare professionals during a critical time for the sector.

“One of the key challenges over the coming year is ensuring that families have access to flexible, affordable and high quality childcare, especially those living in disadvantage. To achieve this, we need a childcare and early years workforce programme that attracts new entrants into the profession and supports existing childcare professionals to improve their level of expertise, across the full range of settings.

“We’d like to see Mr Gyimah propose an effective way to address the current shortfall experienced by many childcare professionals who receive the free early years entitlement.

“Increasing this funding to an appropriate level would enable registered childcare providers to invest in the quality staff that all the evidence shows supports better outcomes for children, particularly the most disadvantaged. We would also like to see a renewed commitment to ensuring that all early years settings support children’s emotional, social and physical development on an equal footing with academic attainment.

“Above all, we are interested in exploring with Mr Gyimah our ideas for supporting greater recognition of the fantastic skills, efforts and expertise of childcare professionals, who work every day to give the youngest in society the very best start in life.”

'Meddling politicians who are uninformed'

June O’Sullivan, chief executive of LEYF ( London Early Years Foundation) does not have much faith in early years ministers and says that on the whole, the sector's response to Elizabeth Truss's departure was one of relief.

In her blog, she said: “As a sector the meddling of politicians who are uninformed (except in that they were once themselves children and went to school) has not been entirely helpful. Be honest, very few mourned the departure of our minister, in fact we were all quite relieved.

“We never had a full and thoughtful philosophical discussion to agree how the two different policy drivers (employment and narrowing the gap) would actually achieve those better outcomes for children. The question has always remained confused; what do these outcomes actually look like?

“So let me remind you of some of the policies pushed through with little regard for any opinions and opposed by the majority except for one or two self–serving members of our community.

“Were you happy with: introduction of child-minding agencies; introduction of the EY teacher role; removal of local authorities duty to support, advise and train those running good settings; changes to funding criteria (based on Ofsted criteria only?); introduction of baseline assessments from Reception; removal of requirement for schools to register separately to take two year olds and can you recruit apprentices with A – C GSCEs in Maths and English at breakneck speed?

“Right?! So what we really need now is the space to focus on what we do, what we need to do and what will work best for children in England. I would like to be able to say the UK but already we have four different approaches with variations in how the Scottish, Welsh and Irish approaches. Interestingly, the policy drivers remain the same; supporting employment and narrowing the educational gap of our poorest children.”


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